April 2017

The know zone

  • On your marks...
    A race around the park provides Dennis Richards with some gentle exercise and a golden opportunity to catch up on the latest thinking on pupil attainment… More
  • Halfway there
    Last December, the government finally released the second stage of the consultation on the national funding formula (NFF). So was it worth the wait? Julia Harnden says more funding must be invested in education for the formula to be a success. More
  • Minds matter
    Every week there is a new report or story in the media about the worsening mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. Here, Anna Cole highlights how leaders can develop a whole-school approach to deal with mental health and wellbeing. More
  • Mental health and wellbeing
    The government wants to offer schools in England mental health first-aid training and is looking at how to strengthen links between schools and the NHS. Have you seen a rise in mental health issues in young people in your school or college? Have you had any experience of accessing local specialist NHS services to help pupils? Here ASCL members share their views. More
  • Real-world opportunities to inspire students
    Focus on… Youth Grand Challenges More
  • Adding value
    Embracing new ways to communicate More
  • Stay in control
    Julie McCulloch highlights new guidance for schools considering joining or forming a multi-academy trust (MAT) and explains how you can stay in control of your school’s destiny. More
  • Leaders’ surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
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Last December, the government finally released the second stage of the consultation on the national funding formula (NFF). So was it worth the wait? Julia Harnden says more funding must be invested in education for the formula to be a success.

Halfway there

The opportunity to dive in to the detail of how the government intends to reform the distribution of school revenue funding is welcomed, especially since there has been a rising tide of unhelpful speculation about ‘winners and losers’ and conflation of two different problems: equity and sufficiency.


There is general acceptance that the current distribution methodology is inequitable; based on historic expenditure patterns it cannot reflect changes in pockets of deprivation, for example. In the 2000s, spending per pupil increased by about 5% per year, but simply applying these increases on a percentage basis has only served to widen the gap in the amount that a pupil is ‘worth ‘in different parts of the country. We should welcome this initial step to apply consistency to pupil, school and area characteristics with the ultimate aim being to align resources with need and end the postcode lottery.

The weightings, applied to the 13 factors in the NFF, are the key to its success. So is the balance right?

Initial investigations suggest that the weighting of the basic per pupil amount is too low. The NFF proposal is that a weighting of 72.5% is applied. The average weighting applied to the age-weighted pupil unit (AWPU) in local authority formulae at the moment is 76.6%.

The NFF directs more towards additional needs – around 18% of available funding. No one will disagree that schools should be adequately resourced to meet the needs of disadvantaged pupils, however if the formula is to be a success, it must meet the needs of all schools regardless of the level of additional need. If the formula does not enable delivery of the core curriculum in schools where there is little or no additional need, the future of these schools is jeopardised. Also for those schools where additional need is more significant, there is a real risk of funding directed to deprivation factors subsidising core provision. The basic per pupil funding rate must be raised to make sure that this is not the case.

Illustrative budget figures suggest 54% of schools will gain funding under the NFF, but we know that some schools in the lowest funded areas in the current system will be in the 46% that are going to lose funding. This means that some schools that are already approaching the financial cliff edge will be facing even tougher choices, for example, either putting a teacher in front of a class or keeping the lights on.

The government acknowledges that there is a need for a minimum level of funding but the big question is what is it? Sometimes things just aren’t that simple, even if the DfE Efficiency Metric (https://tinyurl.com/zcdkdaf) suggests otherwise – consider the age of the building, the size of available classrooms, recruitment and retention – none of which are quantifiable in the NFF proposals. Therefore, it may be that we have to understand that the formula is a work in progress. It’s taken decades to get to this point so we cannot allow it to go back into the ‘too difficult drawer’ and while we are getting it right, financially efficient schools, not sustainable under the first iteration of the formula, must be identified and supported. (You can look at the implications for your school by logging on to the Collect system. Use our Step by Step Guide to Using Collect www.ascl.org.uk/collect)


What a national formula cannot do is increase the education budget that the DfE has been given by the Treasury. The ASCL Blueprint calls for a funding system that is ‘sufficient, sustainable and equitable’. Sufficient investment in education is vital if all pupils are to be given the chance to reach their full potential. Per pupil funding has been frozen in cash terms since 2015 and any increases in government spending are solely a result of the growth in pupil numbers.

If social mobility really is at the heart of this government’s plan for our young people then surely there is a duty placed on the Chancellor to make sure that everyone has access to what they need to succeed? Then, and only then, will the education funding system be fair.

We often talk about there being three key drivers in schools in relation to strategic financial planning: funding, accountability and stakeholders. Now is the time to mobilise the stakeholder groups. School leaders need parents and communities to be informed and active in response to the implications of the national funding formula and – and this is crucial – they need to be equally well informed on the issue of sufficiency if they are going to galvanise MPs support.

ASCL Guidance:

Summary of the Second Stage Consultation on NFF www.ascl.org.uk/NFFstage2

Guidance: Engaging your MP www.ascl.org.uk/engageMP

Julia Harnden is ASCL Funding Specialist